Obama Returns To Familiar Turf To Sell New Stimulus In his first month in office, President Obama traveled to Denver to sign the nearly $800 billion stimulus bill. The administration hoped it would not just end the recession in a technical sense, but begin the recovery for families. On Tuesday he was back in Denver, selling a new plan. In the intervening 2 1/2 years, how have Coloradans fared?
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Obama Returns To Familiar Turf To Sell New Stimulus

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Obama Returns To Familiar Turf To Sell New Stimulus

Obama Returns To Familiar Turf To Sell New Stimulus

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. President Obama says his jobs plan would create tens of thousands of construction jobs by funding things like road, bridge and school improvements. He made that case again this afternoon, while standing outside Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, Colorado.

P: We can rebuild our schools for the 21st century with faster Internet and smarter labs and cutting-edge technology. And that won't just create a better learning environment for students. It'll create good jobs for local construction workers right here in Denver.

NORRIS: The Mile High City is familiar turf for Mr. Obama. It's where he accepted his party's nomination for the White House three years ago. It's also where he signed the original economic stimulus bill. NPR's Scott Horsley reports from Colorado on how that earlier jobs measure has delivered.

SCOTT HORSLEY: When President Obama signed the original stimulus here in Denver during his first month in office, he said it marked the beginning of the end of the nation's economic troubles.


OBAMA: There will be hazards and reverses. But I have every confidence that if we are willing to continue doing the critical work that must be done - by each of us, by all of us - then we will leave this struggling economy behind us, and come out on the other side more prosperous as a people.

HORSLEY: Two and a half years later, many Coloradans are still struggling. The unemployment rate here is 8 and a half percent. And in just one month this summer, Colorado lost some 1,800 jobs. Christine Meyer sees the effects of the long-running downturn at the Cost Cutters beauty salon she manages, just a block away from Lincoln High School.

CHRISTINE MEYER: They cut their own hair when they can't afford to come get a haircut. And our business has gotten a little less every year, and it's significantly slower.

HORSLEY: Meyer says it would be great if the president could do something to create a lot of new jobs in the area. But she's skeptical of the plan he's promoting, which relies heavily on a payroll tax cut for workers and employers.

MEYER: A tax cut is great and all. Don't get me wrong. But are you really going to see it? Six cents here and there, you know what I mean? It's not really going to add up to a whole lot. It adds up to more when you're paying it than it does when you're not paying it.

HORSLEY: Hopes were higher in 2009, when Mr. Obama signed the stimulus bill after touring a new solar array on the roof of Denver's science museum. Blake Jones, whose Namaste Solar company installed the panels, introduced the president. And he said the stimulus bill would give a big lift to clean energy companies like his.


BLAKE JONES: And we now have plans to increase our workforce by 20 percent this year, and 40 percent through 2010.


HORSLEY: This week, I went to visit Jones at his office on the outskirts of Boulder. A Prius with the Namaste company logo sat in the parking lot. Jones said his workforce had, indeed, grown by 40 percent over the last couple of years, largely thanks to the solar incentives in the stimulus bill.

JONES: In the solar sector, it absolutely did what it was supposed to do. We're hiring, as an industry, lots of construction workers, particularly electricians and roofers.

HORSLEY: But in a story that's repeated in many industries, the economic benefits of the stimulus have been partly offset by other headwinds. This year, the local utility reduced its own solar subsidy, and Jones' business in Colorado dropped sharply. He was forced to lay off some workers before resuming his expansion in other states.

JONES: We call it the solar coaster. It's still dependent on subsidies. It's still dependent on public policy. And unfortunately, that changes a lot.

HORSLEY: And government policies that benefit solar energy may be a tougher sell in the wake of the high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, a California solar company that received a half-billion-dollar loan guarantee from the federal government. The cheap Chinese competition that was Solyndra's undoing isn't really a factor in the installation business Jones is in. But fairly or not, he says, the episode has given a black eye to the whole solar industry.

JONES: Whenever something like that happens and in hindsight a bad call is made, yeah, that's very unfortunate. But there have been a lot of good calls that have been made.

HORSLEY: Like many business people, Jones says what he really wants is some consistent and predictable policymaking he can plan around. In today's Washington, though, predictability is the last thing the government has to offer. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Denver.

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